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Zell Bryan Miller (born February 24, 1932) is an American politician from the U.S. state of Georgia. A Democrat, he served as governor of Georgia from 1991 to 1999 and was a United States senator from 2000 to 2005. In the last years of his career, he famously split from his party to back Republican President George W. Bush over Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and since 2003 frequently criticizes perceived problems he sees in his own party.
After not seeking re-election in 2004, he joined McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in the firm's national Government Affairs practice. Miller is also a Fox News Channel contributor.
Miller was born in the small mountain town of Young Harris, Georgia. His father died when Miller was an infant, and the future politician was raised by his widowed mother. As a child, Miller lived both in Young Harris and Atlanta. Today, Miller lives in the old Young Harris home. Miller spent his first two years of college at Young Harris College in his home town. Miller holds a Bachelor's and Master's degrees in history from the University of Georgia.
Less than a month after the Korean War ended, Miller wound up in a drunk tank in the North Georgia Mountains. Miller claimed later that this incident was the nadir of his life. Upon his release, Miller enlisted in the Marines. During his three years in the USMC, Miller attained the rank of sergeant. He often refers to his time as a Marine in his writing and stump speeches. He wrote a book, Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines, about the values which his experience in the Marines taught him. "In the twelve weeks of hell and transformation that were Marine Corps boot camp, I learned the values of achieving a successful life that have guided and sustained me on the course which, although sometimes checkered and detoured, I have followed ever since," he wrote.
Combining a folksy mountain persona and stories about his military service, Zell Miller began a forty plus year political career including Mayor of Young Harris, Georgia; Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Georgia; and US Senator from Georgia.
Miller's father and mother were both involved in local politics in the North Georgia mountains. Miller, a Democrat, was Mayor of Young Harris from 1959 to 1960, and was elected to two terms as a Georgia state senator during the 1960s. In 1964 and 1966, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and both times endorsed segregation, a move he later publicly regretted. He later served in several positions in state government and in the Georgia Democratic Party.
Miller's first experience in the executive branch of government was as Chief of Staff for Georgia governor Lester Maddox. He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 1974, serving four terms from 1975 to 1991, through the terms of Governors George Busbee and Joe Frank Harris, making him the longest serving lieutenant governor in Georgia history. In 1980, Miller unsuccessfully challenged Herman Talmadge in the Democratic primary for his seat in the U.S. Senate.
Miller has taught political science and history at Young Harris College, the University of Georgia, and Emory University.
He was elected governor of Georgia in 1990, defeating Republican Johnny Isakson (who later became his successor as U.S. senator) after defeating Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and future Governor Roy Barnes in the primary. James Carville was Miller's campaign manager.
In 1992, Miller endorsed Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas for U.S president. He became close to Clinton, and some political commentators described Miller's support as critical in helping Clinton hold the South and secure the nomination after a rocky start in the Democratic primaries. Miller keynoted the 1992 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In two oft-recalled lines, Miller said that President George Bush "just doesn't get it," and remarked of Vice President Dan Quayle, "Not all of us can be born rich, handsome, and lucky, and that's why we have a Democratic Party."
As governor, Miller was a staunch promoter of public education. During this time, he helped found the HOPE Scholarship, which paid for the college tuition (paid by funds collected from the Georgia Lottery and from state income taxes) of students who both established a GPA of 3.0 in high school and maintained the same while in college. In December 1995, his office announced a proposal for $1 billion more in spending on education. HOPE won praise from national Democratic leaders.
Miller's biggest election battle came in 1994. In 1992, he became the first Georgia governor to openly proclaim a desire to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Flag of Georgia. He sponsored legislation to change the flag at the 1993 session of the Georgia General Assembly, but the legislature, perhaps influenced by polls showing support for retaining the flag, enacted no changes. Miller dropped the issue, but in the election that followed, his Republican rival, Guy Millner used the flag issue against him, arguing it proved he was out of touch with Georgians. Miller won re-election, but narrowly.
Some have said that the 1994 election was a turning point in Miller's career, arguing it gave him a desire to prove himself a cultural conservative. One cited piece of evidence is that in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, he gradually shifted from being pro-choice to pro-life.
Upon leaving the Governor's office in January of 1999, Miller accepted teaching positions at Young Harris College, Emory University, and The University of Georgia. He was a visiting professor at all three institutions when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate.
Miller's successor as governor, Roy Barnes, appointed Miller to a U.S. Senate seat following the death of Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell in July 2000. While the Democratic Party's historic control of Georgia politics had waned for years, Miller remained popular. He easily won a special election to keep the seat in November 2000. During the campaign to keep the seat, Miller spoke warmly of his late friend Coverdell, praised Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, and promised to work for bipartisanship in the Senate.
As Coverdell had last been elected in 1998, Miller had a four-year term in the Senate before his retirement from politics in January 2005, following the conclusion of the 108th United States Congress.
Zell Miller's actions and some may argue his basic philosophy took a bizarre turn after he became a senator. For reasons unknown to this day, he turned against his party with a vengeance, attacking Democratic colleagues, including some who had strongly supported his prior campaigns. Although his "conversion" has for the most part remained a mystery, it has been suggested that Miller was only given a lukewarm reception by Senate Democrats upon his arrival in Washington, much to his chagrin.
In 2004, he cosponsored a proposed Constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would have prohibited government, at any level, from recognizing any homosexual domestic partnerships. On March 11th of that year, he introduced legislation that would have created a board of "shapers of opinions" (as he called it in his introductory speech) to advise broadcasters on content the government deemed acceptable or unacceptable, and to make automatic re-appropriations of some of the revenue generated from media-"indecency" fines to pay for federal services directed through religious establishments. Later that year, he proposed a Constitutional amendment to repeal the 17th Amendment (this would transfer the right to elect U.S. senators from the people back to the state legislatures, as the Constitution originally provided for).
Miller also established himself as a far-right conservative on virtually all economic issues. His days of creating Georgia's HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K Program seemingly forgotten, he was the first Democrat in the Senate to publicly declare his support for the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 which cut taxes all across the board. Miller was the only Democrat to vote against an amendment to that same bill submitted by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to scale back portions of that tax cut in order to spend more on education and debt reduction. He strongly opposed the estate tax and voted a number of times for its repeal. He also advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
During 2001 and 2002, when liberal Republican senators from New England like James Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee threatened to (and in Jeffords' case, did) leave their party over ideological disputes, rumors abounded that Miller would become a Republican in order to return control of the Senate to that party. These rumors were dispelled with Miller's declaration that he was "born a Democrat and will die one."
In 2002, Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) was involved in a contentious re-election campaign against Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss. The race galvanized Democrats across the nation, who said Chambliss had questioned the patriotism of Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran. (Chambliss denied that.) Miller remained true to the Democrats in this case, campaigning hard for Cleland despite their ideological differences. But after Chambliss won, Miller formed a close working relationship with him.
In 2003, Miller announced that he would not seek re-election after completing his term in the Senate. He also announced that he would support President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election rather than any of the nine candidates then competing for his own party's nomination. He maintained this position after fellow Senator John Kerry became the Democratic nominee, and Miller, who had been a keynote speaker at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, was subsequently announced to be the keynote speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Miller argued in his book A National Party No More (authored and published in 2003) that the Democratic Party lost its majority because it does not stand for the same ideals that it did in the era of John F. Kennedy. He argued that the Democratic Party, as it now stands, is a far-left-wing party that is out of touch with America of today and that the Republican Party now embraces the conservative Democratic ideals that he has held for so long.
Despite Miller's frequent disagreements with his own party, he did occasionally support some of their positions. For example, he was a strong supporter of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. In Miller's view the provisions of the bill, limiting donations to candidates for political office, should have gone even further. He also, in October 2003, voted with most of his party to prohibit the enforcement of the ban on travel to Cuba. And despite his support of a Federal Marriage Amendment, on June 15, 2004, Miller voted with every single member of his party to include sexual orientation in hate crime laws.
In his keynote convention speech, delivered on September 1, 2004, Miller struck what was regarded by many commentators as the fiercest tone of all the major speakers at the convention. In it, he criticized the current state of the Democratic party. He said, "No pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two senators from Massachusetts--Ted Kennedy and John Kerry." He also criticized John Kerry's Senate voting record, claiming that Kerry's votes against bills for defense and weapon systems indicated support for weakening U.S. military strength. Here is a widely-quoted portion of the speech:
"The B-1 bomber, that Senator Kerry opposed, dropped 40 percent of the bombs in the first six months of Enduring Freedom. The B-2 bomber, that Senator Kerry opposed, delivered air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hussein's command post in Iraq. The F-14A Tomcats, that Senator Kerry opposed, shot down Khadafi's Libyan MIGs over the Gulf of Sidra. The modernized F-14D, that Senator Kerry opposed, delivered missile strikes against Tora Bora.
The Apache helicopter, that Senator Kerry opposed, took out those Republican Guard tanks in Kuwait in the Gulf War. The F-15 Eagles, that Senator Kerry opposed, flew cover over our Nation's Capital and this very city after 9/11. I could go on and on and on: against the Patriot Missile that shot down Saddam Hussein's scud missiles over Israel; against the Aegis air-defense cruiser; against the Strategic Defense Initiative; against the Trident missile; against, against, against. This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?"
Many convention delegates were enthusiastic about the speech. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported afterwards,
A commentator for US News and World Report compared the speech to the views and ideology of Andrew Jackson.
Miller's combative reaction to post-speech media interviews received almost as much attention as the speech itself.
First, in an interview with CNN, Miller had a dispute with Judy Woodruff, Wolf Blitzer, and Jeff Greenfield when they questioned him on his speech. Their points included: that some of the weapons and weapon systems he criticized Kerry for not supporting were outdated and years ago planned for termination; that most of the votes Miller cited were cast in peacetime; and that one of his quotes from Kerry was made about the Vietnam War, not more recently about defense in general, as Miller suggested.
Second, and most [in]famously, Miller appeared in an interview with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC show Hardball. Here, Miller became visibly angry. Matthews attacked the premise of Miller's assertion that Kerry had actually voted against such defense programs by noting that in voting on appropriations bills, senators often vote against a version of a bill without wishing to oppose every item in that bill. Matthews also asked Miller to compare his assertion that a military under Kerry would be armed with only "spitballs" with rhetoric from Democrats that Republicans "want to starve little kids, they want to get rid of education, they want to kill the old people" and whether such level of rhetoric was constructive. When Miller expressed irritation at this line of questioning, Matthews pressed Miller with the question "Do you believe now — do you believe, Senator, truthfully, that John Kerry wants to defend the country with spitballs?" Miller at first said that he wished the interview had been face-to-face so that he could "get a little closer up into your face" and asked him to "get out of my face." Finally, objecting to Matthews' questioning, Miller said, "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel." (The interview was later parodied on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and by Darrell Hammond and Will Forte on Saturday Night Live.)
Delivering this keynote speech made Miller the only man of the modern era to keynote the conventions of both major parties (as he had previously delivered the 1992 Democratic National Convention keynote address).
Years before becoming a U.S. senator, he was called by critics "Zigzag Zell." One example of supposed flip-flopping: In the 1980s he served two years on the board of Georgia's leading anti-lottery group, but during his gubernatorial campaign in 1990 indicated his support for a lottery only a few weeks after publicly saying he opposed a lottery. He eventually helped push through a lottery.
Former President Jimmy Carter, also a former Georgia governor, has claimed Miller shifted from moderation in his first gubernatorial term to "black-and-white" conservative in his second. National allegations of flip-flopping arose during Miller's term in the Senate, mostly after his endorsement of Bush. In 2004, Miller was an extreme critic of John Kerry, who Miller said wanted weak national defense and "to fight yesterday's war." But at a dinner in Atlanta in 2001, Miller had introduced Kerry as "one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders — and a good friend," who had "worked to strengthen our military."
Miller has also been controversial for harsh, sometimes inflammatory remarks made in public. For instance, on the Senate floor on 2004 May 13, Miller said (though he also denounced the torture) that he refused to join in the outrage over American soldiers' torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison, because the expressed dismay was a "national act of contrition." In his "Deficit of Decency" speech (which prompted him eventually to author a book of the same name) in February 2004, he attributed American societal malaise to rap music, desecration of the American flag, homosexual marriage and non-Christian government, and insinuated that addressing such "indecency" by law was "of utmost importance" in order to save American civilization from extinction.
Democrats criticized Miller's speech at the Republican National Convention. Many noted factual discrepancies in Miller's speech. Some compared Miller's keynote speech to Pat Buchanan's keynote speech at the Republican Convention of 1992 and to the rhetoric that U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy had been known to use during the 1950s. One line of particular ridicule was, "Our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief." In an interview on The Daily Show after the speech, U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican who was endorsing Pres. Bush, expressed some indifference to the speech. Two days after Miller's speech, NBC News reported that the day after the speech "the Bush campaign‚??led by the first lady‚??backed away from Miller's savage attack on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, insisting that the estranged Democrat was speaking only for himself," and on the same day "Miller and his wife were removed from the list of dignitaries who would be sitting in the first family's box during the president's acceptance speech". Although reporters were told that the removal was because Miller would be too busy with interviews, there were no known media interviews conducted with Miller during the time of President Bush's speech. Only hours before that report, First Lady Laura Bush said to an interviewer about Miller's speech, "I don't know that we share that point of view."
Many in the Democratic party have labeled him a traitor and some have even considered him to be "The Benedict Arnold of the Democratic Party." He has also earned the derogatory nickname "Zellout" from some Democrats for his alleged betrayal of the party in 2004.
Given his increasingly conservative ideology and increasing political distance from the Democratic Party, many Democratic leaders publicly claimed that Miller was no longer a true Democrat. He did in fact stop meeting with the Democratic Party's Senatorial caucus and instead sat in on the Republican one.
Some have said that Miller remained a Democrat because of the increased attention he got when he attacked the Democratic Party as a fellow Democrat. Terry McAuliffe, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee went so far as to accuse the senator of attacking his own party in order to sell books. "If he were just another Republican with a book, he wouldn't sell any. But a Democrat out whacking Democrats sells books," McAuliffe told CNN, urging Miller to switch parties. Miller says that he was born into the Democratic Party and considers his party label "like a birthmark." In the summer of 2004, The Georgia Democratic Party aired TV spots which said "Let's remember what Zell Miller was, and forgive him for what he's become."
Many other prominent Democrats have demanded that Miller quit the party. This is extraordinary in U.S. history: politicians have often been denounced for switching labels, but rarely for refusing to do so. In his book A National Party No More, Miller calls himself the last "Truman Democrat" and says the party has abandoned him. He seems determined to remain at least nominally a Democrat, although he has not endorsed any Democrats running in a statewide race since he campaigned for Max Cleland's reelection in 2002.
On June 18, 2005 Miller endorsed former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, a Republican for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Miller declared, "I am for Ralph Reed as strongly as I have ever been for anyone." Reed was defeated in the Republican primary. Miller can also be heard narrating a television commercial for the 2006 reelection campaign of Georgia Governor, Sonny Perdue.
After President Bush was re-elected, Miller referred to the Republican victories in that election (including a sweep of five open Senate seats in the South) as a sign that Democrats didn't relate to most Americans. Calling for Democrats to change their message, he authored an editorial, which appeared in the Washington Times on Nov. 4th 2004, in which he wrote:
In August 2005, President Bush appointed Miller to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Miller was a speaker at "Justice Sunday II," an event organized by conservative Christian evangelicals to combat perceived liberal bias in the Federal Judiciary of the United States. The event was organized by Tony Perkins and James Dobson, and held in Nashville, Tennessee on August 14, 2005.
Miller criticized the United States Supreme Court, saying, that it had "removed prayer from our public schools . . . legalized the barbaric killing of unborn babies and it is ready to discard like an outdated hula hoop the universal institution of marriage between a man and a woman."
"I've never seen a poor man who gave a rich man a job but I've seen plenty of rich men that gave poor men jobs." -10/05/06 in Salt Lake City on tax cuts for the rich being beneficial.
"Teacher's unions support gay rights." - 10/05/06 in Salt Lake City
"I found a den of copperheads under my porch and I found the nearest hoe and killed them all. Those copperheads were threatening my home and my family and that's just what we need to do to the terrorists... just like those copperheads I'd just their heads off and kill them dead." - 10/05/06 in Salt Lake City on the Iraqi war.
"I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel." - Hardball with Chris Matthews, 9/1/2004
By Zell Miller:
About Zell Miller:
|United States senators in the 106th Congress|
AL: Shelby, Sessions
HI: Inouye, Akaka
MA: Kennedy, Kerry
NM: Domenici, Bingaman
SD: Daschle, Johnson
| Republican | Democrat | Independent|
(*) Zell Miller was appointed to the Senate following the death of Paul Coverdell
|United States senators in the 107th Congress|
AL: Shelby, Sessions
HI: Inouye, Akaka
MA: Kennedy, Kerry
NM: Domenici, Bingaman
SD: Daschle, Johnson
| Republican | Democrat | Independent|
(*) Frank Murkowski resigned to become Governor of Alaska.
|United States senators in the 108th Congress|
AL: Shelby, Sessions
HI: Inouye, Akaka
MA: Kennedy, Kerry
NM: Domenici, Bingaman
SD: Daschle, Johnson
| Republican | Democratic | Independent|
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